The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
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Travel doesn’t need to be expensive! This is especially true in Florence, Italy. Whether you’re a college student studying abroad, a faculty member on sabbatical, looking for family travel activities that don’t break the bank, or a budget-minded traveler, finding the free is ALWAYS a good thing, so that you have room in your travel budget for accommodations, interesting tours, and, of course, great food.

Here are our suggestions for the best free (and most unique) attractions to visit in Florence:  

The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

A Treasure Hunt at the Duomo

I’m sure you’ve read our guide to the hidden secrets of Florence, but I’ll extract two interesting tidbits here (click to read more about both). They are not traditional tourist attractions, but give you a bit of Scooby Doo detective work to do, with interesting historical and architectural rewards:

The Bull and the Baker
If you take a walk around the left side of Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as The Duomo, and then look up, you will find the head of a bull. There’s quite a myth behind this creation!

The Duomo Bull. The Bull and the Baker. From Finding the Hidden Secrets of Florence: 8 You Don't Want to Miss

The Cupola’s Fallen Ball
The Duomo took 170 years to complete. The first stone was laid in 1296, and it was finally completed in 1469 when Verrocchio’s copper ball was placed on top of Brunelleschi’s Dome. In January of 1600, a massive storm moved through the city of Florence. A bolt of lightning hit the large copper ball, breaking the supporting brackets. The ball rolled down the side of the dome and landed into the stones of the piazza below.

Mark of the Duomo, Florence. Finding the Hidden Secrets of Florence: 8 You Don't Want to Miss

Oblate Library 

Located in the Convent of the Oblate, which was built in the 14th century, the Oblate Library is, perhaps, the most secret of all Florence's treasures. Here, you can see historical documents about the city (and Tuscany), visit the Museum of Prehistory, and head up to the cafeteria for a beautiful view of Bruneschelli's dome. There are also gorgeous sculptures from 20th century artists, donated after the 1966 flood, as well as other beautiful works of historic art.

Visitors can also create a membership for free, and borrow books (!!!), or study and work here. Events include activities for kids, teens, yoga, music, readings, discovering the sky, and more.

View from the Oblate Library. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Giaccai

Piazzale Michelangelo

Climb the stairs from San Niccolò, or drive up to this gorgeous terrace. It’s famous for a reason–the Piazzale Michelangelo boasts the city’s most beautiful views. If you visit at dusk, to see the sunset, you’ll wonder at the marvelous, golden-tinted panorama before you.

View from the Piazzale Michelangelo. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Iris Garden

Located at the corner of the Piazzale Michelangelo and viale dei Colli, this is a stop worth making. Founded by the Società Italiana dell’Iris (Italian Iris Society), the garden features the symbol of Florence (since 1251!), the Iris…1,500+ varieties! It’s only open for a month each year (check; usually in April/May, during peak blooming season), but can be booked to view at other times of the year.

Iris Garden. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Sailko

Rose Garden

Located just below the Piazzale Michelangelo, the Rose Garden showcases over 350 varieties of roses. It’s open from 8am-8pm every day. Wander the garden and enjoy the scents and sights of such beauty!

Rose Garden. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Sailko

Ponte Vecchio

Perhaps the most photogenic bridge in the country, the Ponte Vecchio is also the oldest bridge in Florence. Mentioned by Dante in his Divine Comedy, you can see a plaque with some of his verses.

Ponte Vecchio. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Piazza della Signoria

The piazza is located in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the 14th c town hall; many other important and beautiful buildings are located here. This famous square is packed with outdoor art, in the form of sculptures, including a copy of Michelangelo's David, the Fountain of Neptune (Ammannati), a copy of Donatello's Judith and Holofernes, and Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa.

Piazza della Signoria. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Piazza della Signoria. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Piazza della Signoria. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

When you visit the site of this important gothic church, look up! You'll see two astronomical instruments critical to the calendar we still use today. These ancient astronomical instruments are located on either side of the main doors of the Basilica. Ignazio Danti, an astronomer, cartographer, and Dominican monk, placed the instruments on the facade of the church. He used them to study the movement of the sun and calculate the discrepancy between the solar year and Julius Caesar’s Julian calendar...and figure out leap year!

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Last Supper Frescoes

There are many frescoes depicting the Last Supper, all around Florence. Free ones to visit include those in the Great Refectory of the San Salvi convent, the first Last Supper painted in Florence, located at the convent of Santa Apollonia, the visitor center at Cenacolo, and Ghirlandaio's Last Supper, at the Convent of Ognissanti.

Ghirlandaio's Last Supper, at the Convent of Ognissanti. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

Free First Sunday Admission to Museums

Did you know, by Italian degree, that many museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of each month? This includes the Uffizi, Medici Chapels, Pitti Palace, Accademia, and more. Check the respective museums' websites to be sure they're included.

David, at the Accademia . From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

And...

Of course, there are markets to wander (which won’t be free, because you’ll get hungry), parks, libraries, and piazzas galore.

Day trips from Florence

Perhaps, like the students in Boccaccio's Decameron, you will want to take a day trip from Florence. Mimic their journey and depart from the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and head to Fiesole; sit in the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, and marvel at history amidst the city today, so very different from this ancient story, yet still visible in the ruins. 

Amphitheatre in Fiesole . From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Marie-Lan Nguyen

While you're planning day trips from Florence, be sure to visit any of the 12 Medici villas (and two gardens) that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include Villa di Castello, Villa di La Petraia, Villa di Poggio a Caiano, Villa di Cerreto Guidi, and Pratolino Park. They are all free to visit.

Medici villa near Florence. From The Best Free Attractions To Visit In Florence

 

What free things to do in Florence do YOU recommend? We'd love to hear!

 

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